Archive for April, 2009

Libraries double as shelters

Posted: April 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

Libraries do balancing act as

mentally ill find refuge

Quiet place draws the troubled

Updated: 04/29/2009 08:54:45 AM MDT



Joe Cunningham, 62, homeless and bipolar, spends his day at the Denver Public Library downtown. A new study finds nine in 10 library staffers nationally say mentally ill patrons have affected their facility’s use by others. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

They’re gathered outside the library before the doors open — the man in the Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt talking loudly to no one, the guy crouched behind the book drop, his torn backpack overflowing with everything he owns.

Some, the ones sleeping on the streets, head straight for the bathroom to wash their faces and brush their teeth. Others immediately stake out a nook in the four-story Denver Public Library near downtown, settling in for the day.

Many libraries across the country have become day shelters for the mentally ill, a consequence of the country’s lack of treatment programs for people with mental disorders, experts say.

The not-so-subtle problem was quantified in a recent survey of 1,300 public libraries, including some in Colorado: 90 percent of library staff said mentally ill patrons have disturbed the use of the library by other people. About 85 percent have had to call police.

Denver police are called to one of the city’s 23 branch libraries about twice each week on average. The Central Library across the street from Civic Center park has the most disturbances, ranging from passed-out or disruptive patrons to assaults and two stabbings since 2002.

In 2005, a mentally ill, homeless man slashed another transient man’s throat outside the elevators after they argued in the bathroom. Three years earlier, a woman was stabbed in the children’s area by a man recently released from prison who wanted to go back.

Several times, police chases that started in Civic Center have ended in the library, where drug dealers try to hide in the 10-foot bookshelves, said Celeste Jackson, the library’s public information officer.

But the majority of mentally ill people who visit the library follow the rules, sitting alone as they flip through books or surf the Internet, she said.

Daytime shelter rare

Joe Cunningham, who has bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders, studied his notebook of architectural sketches for his $2 million, Victorian dream home at a library table last week.

Cecil Miller, 53, cleans up in the bathroom of the Denver Public Library’s Central branch. Library staffers no longer use the first-floor facilities. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

The Vietnam veteran used to see a psychiatrist through the Department of Veterans Affairs, but his treatment was cut off because he was not honorably discharged — he punched a sergeant in the face, he said.

“I don’t take nothing,” Cunningham said, sitting near the wheelchair he uses to tote his belongings. “I just deal with it the best way I can.”

Cunningham, 62, sleeps in a shelter and sometimes seeks air-conditioning or heat during the day at the library.

Cecil Miller, who has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, complained that there are few places to hang out besides a public library. Daytime shelters such as St. Francis Center and Father Woody’s Chapel of Hope are scarce and crowded.

Miller, who camps out with his wife behind a pawnshop, has been homeless since he lost his hotel janitorial job a year ago.

“I don’t want to be here,” he said, sitting outside the library near a shopping cart filled with his possessions. “I didn’t want my illness.”

On a recent day, he searched art books to find a picture of a Rembrandt painting he loves.

Librarians struggle daily to balance public safety and public access — for everyone.

“We work really hard to make it a safe place,” said Thomas Scott, manager of security for Denver Public Library. “Instead of being angry when someone sees a homeless person in a library, be thankful there is an opportunity at the library to turn themselves around.” Librarians often help people set up e-mail accounts, which could put a homeless person on the path to a job and housing, he said.

Security officers have banned mentally ill people for cussing out staff, touching staff inappropriately, stealing CDs or books, and falling asleep more than three times. To return, a person must sign a “behavioral contract” after a sit-down meeting with Scott.

A policy against odor

At Aurora Central Library, there is, among other safety rules, an odor policy, supervisor Linda Shaw said.

“We do need to balance the needs of everyone and make sure the library is a safe and welcoming place where people would want to return,” she said, adding that librarians call police less than once a month.

Some librarians who took part in the survey, published this month by the American Library Association, reported that mentally ill people had punched them, stalked them or tossed chairs at them.

The troubles are the “ongoing public disaster of emptying our hospitals and then not ensuring that people got treatment,” said E. Fuller Torrey, the study’s lead author and founder of the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia. His research found 66 percent of libraries have changed their rules because of mentally ill visitors.

At the Denver Public Library, security guards are constantly on foot patrol, scouting for disruptive behavior. People without a child aren’t allowed in the children’s area.

And the first-floor restrooms have such a bad reputation, library staff don’t use them. Syringes once clogged the plumbing, and security officers have busted sexual hook-ups and drug activity in the stalls.

Last week, Peter Allsopp, who walked his granddaughter to their car while her mother finished checking out books, acknowledged watching the preschooler a bit more closely because of the surroundings.

“I noticed a few people in there that were homeless,” he said. “But more than anything, I have compassion for them.”

Jennifer Brown: 303-954-1593 or


Crime and Punishment printed in

 nine minutes at Britain’s first

‘book vending machine’

Crime and Punishment may take the average reader several months to complete, but Britain’s first “book vending machine” can print you a copy in just nine minutes.


A freshly-bound edition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic – ordered by The Daily Telegraph – was one of the first tomes to drop out of the Espresso Book Machine when it opened for business for the first time yesterday.

The novel is one of more than 400,000 titles including many rare and out-of-print books that can be printed on demand at Blackwell bookshop on Charing Cross Road in central London.

With pages spewed out at the rate of 100 a minute, the printing itself was over in a little over five minutes.

The sheets were then shuttled into the binding section of the machine were they were pressed, covered, glued, and cut to shape in under four minutes.

And the results were impressive. The hefty work that skidded out of the chute, while slightly sticky to the touch, looked and felt like a standard edition, even down to the correct ISBN number on the back.

The paper and ink are the same quality used in larger presses, and the binding appeared flawless.

Phill Jamieson, head of marketing at Blackwell, said that the firm was uncertain how the £68,000 machine – one of only three such printers in the world – would be used during its three-month trial period.

As well as allowing readers to track down rare books, it also offers mainstream works that happen to be out of stock and can be used by unpublished writers wanting to see their words in print.

One such customer is Mary Cade, 58, a former law firm employee from Bloomsbury made redundant during the recession who is struggling to find an agent for her novel The Bermondsey Grail, which she describes as combination of “21st Century office life and druids”.

Waiting patiently for her turn on the machine, she said: “I rushed here as soon as I heard. It can takes years to get a book published but now I can get a copy printed straight away.”

The printing is not cheap – there is a set fee of £10 a book, plus 2p for every page – and she only wants one copy. “I shall keep it and look at it, and learn from the experience,” she said.


The Portable MLIS

Posted: April 21, 2009 in Uncategorized


After this semester, I’m within one course and my practicum of earning my MLIS degree. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is encouraging, but to be honest I’ve loved the intellectual stimulation of graduate school – even the occasional sense of being “under the gun,” in a crunch to finish a paper, prepare for a quiz, etc.

I don’t ever want to lose the satisfaction of learning something new. Theoretically, that’s what the profession is all about, right? If things go according to plan, I’ve found my true professional niche in life.

However, in the public library setting I’ve found reference work to be more about directing patrons toward things, like the copy machine, or the computers, or placing items on hold for them than researching anything. Having come through going on two years of graduate school I honestly feel a little let down by that.

Is there some way to offer my research services to the community? Some method of reaching out to those who need information put together in order to complete a task? I don’t mean doing research papers for students. Getting them materials to help them, fine, but not allowing them to cheat by relying on a librarian’s skills. This is one way I can think of to satisfy my desire to dig into subjects, to really “get my hands dirty,” as it were. Any ideas as to how that’s possible, and how to go about it?

Otherwise, isn’t the public library becoming a source for those looking to access the internet for free, or take advantage of free wi-fi? It’s a place to read books, periodicals and check out other materials, as well. But it’s always been that. These days it’s the computers that draw most people in. Unless they’re parents of small children, then it’s often the programming. For adults, especially retirees, it’s also partly the programming – learning and being entertained, justifying the use of their tax dollars when they have more time on their hands than a lot of working people. And for other adults, book clubs and reader’s advisory, sometimes.

Recently I learned about the book The Portable MLIS: Insights From the Experts, edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke E. Sheldon. I wanted to preview it before I decided whether it was worth the $ 45 price at Amazon, so I ordered it via Interlibrary Loan. I found it covers pretty much all the ground – though more sketchily – of my graduate work. That both lifts my spirits – knowing it’s a worthy book to buy as a constant reference – and depresses me.

The downer part is the book is so good, so thorough, I feel I could have read that and gotten at least half, if  not more, of the education I’ve spent thousands on. The profession requires the degree in order to allow one to climb the ladder, but should it? Really, in all cases?

I think that answer varies, depending on what type of librarianship one pursues. In the public library setting, my own personal belief is nothing we do here isn’t trainable. Ordering and weeding collections, dealing with the public, pointing toward restrooms, copy machines, computers and the circulation desk, don’t require the expenditure of thousands of dollars. How many times have I been asked anything that’s required more than thirty seconds to research? Something that isn’t what’s the phone number of (fill in the blank) or where are the tax forms? Twice, so far, in pushing a year manning the reference desk approximately four hours a week. One instance was a question about information on buying specific tires, which required reading reviews online (and I suspect the person had no internet capability) and the other asked how to find three or four members of the military – where they are now and how to contact them. The second of the two was tough. The military doesn’t seem too willing to share this sort of information, I guess because they’re afraid of possible nefarious intentions. That one actually required some serious digging.

Academic librarians, special librarians and archivists, now those specialties require more specific information. They’re more likely to dig into research, to find special information. Academic librarians also teach. They may even need metadata (shiver) skills, which I pray to the gods I never have to even see again. But public librarians? Things are so different for us.

It’s probably normal to have some buyer’s remorse after spending so much money for a degree. In this economy, especially, grad students are likely breathing into paper bags, thinking WHY AM I SPENDING THIS MONEY FOR A JOB I MAY NEVER GET?!

I’m not the only person questioning the validity of the MLIS degree, though. With nearly every issue of professional journals I see at least one letter to the editor expressing the same question, and occasionally an entire article devoted to the topic. If I Googled the subject I’d probably find loads of hits. And I think I will do that.

What other profession leads people to question advanced education in order to perform their duties? There may be some, but I can only vouch for the fact most people are surprised librarians need a degree. I don’t question doctors needing advanced degrees, nor lawyers, engineers, etc. That seems obvious. But when I tell people I’m getting a degree in Library and Information Studies they look at me as though I just said I’m planning to build a staircase to the moon. “You’re getting WHAT?” is the usual response. I grit my teeth and repeat myself.

Maybe I should chalk it up to the human nature of questioning my choices and my purpose. I’d rather think it’s that than finding out I’m right. Graduate school’s expensive, even with some reimbursement from the library and Friends of the Library. It’ll take two or three years to recoup the investment, maybe more. Not bad if you consider how long it takes doctors to do so, but pretty awful if it’s a gratuitous expense.

As is my wont, I’m going to do a little digging on this subject. It’s doing so after the cows have left the barn, or at least nearly so, but I want to see the percentage of those defending the degree versus those arguing it’s moot. And, also, is there some way to really use the research part of my education, is there some application in the public library setting I haven’t thought about? If we advertise ourselves as research professionals, would more patrons make use of that? Maybe.

In the meanwhile, I’m working on finishing the semester, furiously writing my last two papers, hoping to keep my perfect 4.0. And I’m buying a copy of The Portable MLIS. I’ve decided it’s worth it as a recap of all I’ve learned. Still, my questions nag me, as does the annoyance of not needing to tap into my real passion, research, in the public library setting. But while I’m waiting to figure that out I’ll work on my own research, looking for ways to publish in professional journals, etc. I’ll answer my own questions, fulfilling the part of me that made me choose the profession in the first place. And I’ll hope to find some way to use my unending curiosity professionally. If it’s out there, I intend to find it.


“The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials. The objectives of the World Digital Library are to promote international and inter-cultural understanding and awareness, provide resources to educators, expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and to contribute to scholarly research.”

Read more …

Tom Matlack, one of the gents working for the Good Men Foundation, is my guest poster today. Swing by and check out the website.

There’s also an Essay Contest running now through May, and it’s for a great cause:

“There is no more important question at this moment in history–with markets collapsing, corruption rampant, two foreign wars, environmental disaster at hand, and the fabric of the American family disintegrating–than what it means to be a “good” man. The conventional wisdom is that men don’t like to talk about their interior lives. But James Houghton and I have come to the conclusion, after running a venture capital firm together for a decade, that conventional wisdom is wrong and that men are desperate to tell their stories and hear how other men have met the challenges of our time.

We have collected a cross-section of men–black, white, brown, gay, straight, rich, poor, liberal, conservative in small towns and big cities–to help us look at this issue by writing about a moment that shaped them as a man. We have a drug lord who spent 15 years in Sing Sing and the US Noble Laureate; a football Hall-of-Famer and a Russian Kick-Boxer; a sniper scout in Iraq and the best known war photo journalist covering that war; drug addicts and stay-at-home dads. We have Pulitzer prize winners (Charlie LeDuff), Golden Globe winners (Matt Weiner) and just regular guys–fathers, sons, husbands–grappling with what the hell to do as a man when the world is falling apart around them and what, in the end, really is important.

At the center of our project is our website: and our blog and the forthcoming book Good Men: Real Stories of How We Grow Up, Get Over It, and Get on with Our Lives. The goal of these print and electronic forums is to begin a national discussion amongst men. To that end we are kicking off a national Essay contest March 1 (which runs through May). At a time of darkness, this is a unique opportunity, in our minds, for a reassessment and a new perspective on the part of men in our country. 

Our mission is modeled after Newman’s Own. The Good Men Foundation will support men and boys at-risk across America. All proceeds from our book, magazine and merchandise go to the foundation which fund The Boys & Girls Clubs and Big Brother and Big Sisters, among many other organizations doing work with boys looking to become GOOD MEN.”